What is the Bourbon Chase, you ask? Well, it’s a 200 mile, 12 person relay race through the hills of Kentucky. It starts at the Jim Beam distillery, and the route passes through several other distilleries including Heaven’s Hill, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Maker’s Mark. Along the way, you run through several beautiful horse farms and quaint little towns. The race ends in Lexington 20-35 hours later, depending on how fast your team is.
My team of 12 people was divided into 2 groups. I was in the first group. Each one of us would run a leg of the race, then the other group would take over. We would repeat this rotation 2 more times, so that each person would run 3 different legs of the race.
We got up about 7am and assembled our group outside of the hotel. We quickly packed everyone’s gear into a 15 passenger van and headed to the Jim Beam distillery. We arrived early enough for packet pickup, and then had a little time to tour the gift shop and take team photos. The temperature was in the mid 50s, and clear.
Every 15 minutes a new wave of teams goes off, based on their projected finish times. We had a 10:15am time slot, and watched our first runner take off. His first leg was 7 miles, so we had about an hour to get back to the van, get out of the parking area (where 20 other vans are trying to leave and 20 more are trying to park), drive to the next exchange point and try to park (with 20 other vans trying to leave/park), get geared up, use the porta-johns, and stretch.
I was the next runner, so after doing all of that, I waited for the first runner to come into the exchange shoot. I didn’t have to wait long, and after we exchanged the timing chip (which was attached to a slap bracelet) I took off.
I should mention here that each leg of the race is ranked 1 – 36 based on difficulty. 1 is the hardest leg, 36 is the easiest. I’m not sure how they rank them, but steep hills and mileage come into play. Out of the 36 legs, mine were ranked 17, 10 and 9. Each runner’s combination of legs is also ranked. Mine was ranked #1, both in mileage and difficulty. In other words, I had a long day ahead of me!
I told myself to start at an easy pace, since I had a little over 7 miles to complete on this leg and it was my easiest. My goal was to finish around a 9:00/mile pace. I tried to stay close to the runner in front of me, and it seemed like a good pace to start at. After about half a mile I checked my watch and realized I was running a 7:30 pace! I tried to slow down, but after checking my watch again later I was still under an 8:00 pace. Around 2 miles in I was still running under 8:00, but feeling great! I knew it was too fast, especially since I still had 2 more legs to go, but my legs just wouldn’t slow down.
This part of the route was mainly running along KY-245. The gravel shoulder was wide, but I prefer asphalt due to my ankle still being a little unstable at times. So I ran on the road, jumping to the shoulder if a car was coming. I managed to pass 3 people, 2 of which passed me again a few miles later. Mostly I just got passed. There was a steady stream of people ahead of me, but I just couldn’t seem to make up any ground on them. It seemed like I was always running uphill!
Around the half way point I decided to walk for a bit. I wasn’t tired, but I needed to reset my pace. It worked, and I was able to start again at a much slower pace. According to the elevation chart the rest of the leg was mainly downhill, but it didn’t feel like it. My legs began to feel fatigued, which should accompany running uphill not down. I began to worry that I went out way to hard, which I did, and started walking again. I wasn’t so much worried about finishing the leg as I was about running the next 2.
I didn’t walk for very long, probably less than 50 yards. But it was enough to refresh my lungs and legs and I started running again. I was happy to see the exchange point coming up, and finished strong. I didn’t want my team to see me looking tired, even though I was. I handed the bracelet to the next runner and a teammate handed me a cold bottle of water. It wasn’t until I stopped that I realized the temperature had climbed into the 70s. That bottle of water was just what I needed. I finished the leg at an average pace of 8:32.
Runner #3 had a quick 3 mile run, so we needed to hurry and get to the next exchange point, which was at Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center. I wish we had had time to look around, but when we got there I quickly changed into dry clothes in the van while everyone else went to the exchange area to cheer on the runners. By the time I mixed up a protein shake and rolled out my calves, everyone was already back at the van ready to head to the next exchange.
Runner #4 was lucky enough to draw the hardest leg of the entire race. It was only 5 miles long, but the last half mile was a very steep uphill climb. She was looking forward to it, but only out of sheer curiosity since she hadn’t trained at all for this race. She said everyone had slowed to a power hike at that point. She came in looking good, and handed off to runner #5.
Runner #5 is training for an ultra trail run, so he was using this race as hill training. Even so, he admitted that it was more than he planned for. This leg is the 5th hardest of the race, primarily because of a very steep downhill. The constant pounding on his knees at that steep angle put a beating on him. He was ready for a break at the handoff.
Runner #6 took the bracelet at about 2:30pm, with the sun out in full force. This leg is a steady 6 mile climb with 2 short steep inclines and declines. Overall, though, it is only a 100ft elevation difference from start to finish. It should have been a piece of cake.
(to be continued)